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Geoffrey Hill

The Drama of Reason


Alex Pestell

Geoffrey Hill (1932–2016) was often hailed as one of the most important – and one of the most difficult – poets of his lifetime. This book is a timely investigation into a writer whose work seems simultaneously to invite analysis and to refuse explanations of its sensuous, allusive language. It provides an introduction to Hill’s work for readers coming to it for the first time and offers an account of his poetics that will be of interest to his more experienced readers. Alongside many close readings of poems spanning Hill’s long and varied career, the author brings to light findings from the Geoffrey Hill Archive in Leeds and investigates the poet’s important critical writings. Hill’s often antagonistic engagement with the thought of other poets and philosophers supplies the book’s structure. Coleridge, Eliot, F. H. Bradley and Ezra Pound are engaged by Hill in a dramatic contest over what the author claims is his visionary aim for poetry: the realisation of the objective conditions of judgement. Above all, Hill is presented as a quintessentially modernist poet – at odds with modernity, and at the same time creating a language answerable to its rich, traumatic complexity.
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This book began as a doctoral thesis under the guidance of Keston Sutherland at the University of Sussex. His painstaking attention to my work ensured it found its way to completion: my deepest thanks go to Keston for his support and encouragement at Sussex and after. I am indebted as well to Peter Robinson, whose comments on the thesis as external examiner, as well as his advice and support afterwards, were invaluable. At Sussex I benefited from the conversation and collegiality of many students and members of faculty: in particular thanks are due to Christoforos Diakoulakis, Seda Ilter, Daniel Kane, Michael Kindellan, Angelos Koutsourakis, Peter Nicholls, Richard Parker and David Tucker. I am grateful to the staff of the Brotherton Collection in the Leeds University Library for their help in obtaining documents from the Geoffrey Hill Archive, and to Kenneth Haynes and Geoffrey Hill for granting permission to quote from them. Part of Chapter 7 has been published in a different form as ‘Vision, commerce and society in Geoffrey Hill’s early poetry’, Textual Practice 29/5 (2015); my thanks to its editor, Peter Boxall, and to the journal’s anonymous readers, whose reports initiated several revisions and clarifications. I am also indebted to the book’s commissioning editor, Christabel Scaife, and to the Modern Poetry series editors, David Ayers, David Herd and Jan Montefiore.

A book such as this seems to shun family attachments, but it couldn’t have been written without the support and companionship of Michaela and Jaki,...

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